THE THREE BIGGEST PRODUCTIVITY MYTHS – Time management 2/3

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THE TIME-MANAGEMENT MYTH

Time can’t be managed, bent, given, multiplied and modified in any way. So don’t try to fight with time and treat it as your enemy! Perceiving time more positively will help you to be calmer and happier with your life. You can’t manage time but you still can do a lot in order to improve your productivity.

  • You can manage your energy levels by exercising, sleeping better, drinking more water and eating well.
  • You can choose to limit distractions by turning your phone off or onto airplane mode or by getting up earlier and doing some meaningful work before everyone else will have a chance to bombard you with questions and queries.
  • You can manage your attention better by doing something to improve your focus. I’d recommend green tea, fresh air (open windows for a while) and practising mindfulness.
  • You can say no to invitations, meetings and some people sometimes. It seems very difficult but remember that you can’t allow others to decide how you should live your life.
  • You can manage your tasks and decide to, for example, check emails less often.
  • You can devote some time to planning and reviewing your goals and analyse the progress to become better every week.

Don’t look at the passing hours and minutes. Focus on what’s important, plan your steps and take actions. One of the most important things is to have a flexible approach. You may need to change your plans, your techniques and methods but you don’t need to give up or change your goals. Challenges are good for us – they help us grow. Be open, positive and flexible.

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How to be happier? And why we should think of others more?

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Make someone happy. Make someone smile. You’ve surely heard that good vibes and emotions, a positive mood and optimism are contagious. Studies from the University of Zurich in Switzerland, using MRI scans, indicated that people who spent money on others instead of themselves had more activity in the brain areas associated with happiness and altruism. In the research it was also highlighted that the amount of money spent on others did not matter.

The simple act of giving, not always expensive or material things, improves our well-being a lot.

In a different study, carried out by UK researchers, it was found that people who performed some acts of kindness regularly every day for 10 days had a significant boost in their happiness level. Such a short period of time as 10 days had made a huge difference! Again, the conclusion is: helping others makes us happier.

There is a popular Chinese proverb that fits here perfectly:
“If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. 
If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. 
If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. 
If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.”

THE THREE BIGGEST PRODUCTIVITY MYTHS – Multitasking 1/3

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THE MULTITASKING MYTH

Around a decade ago some employers suddenly started to ask during work interviews: Are you able to multitask? Some still do this although many people are already familiar with the most recent studies which indicate that multitasking is impossible in humans and is merely switching from one task to another. On top of that, multitasking decreases productivity by up to 30-40%.

It may sometimes be okay to combine a physical activity with a cognitive one, e.g. listening to an audio book while riding a bike or washing dishes, but many employers got the idea of multitasking completely wrong. Some of them believe that multitasking is needed and can be done in busy office environments where one needs to answer a lot of phone calls, reply to emails and provide face-to-face customer service. No, it can’t.

Research shows that trying to multitask will actually make you slower and also … lower your IQ! Our human brain can focus only on one task at a time and people who try to work this way and avoid multitasking achieve the best results.

Researchers from the University of Sussex in England carried out a study using MRI scans. The findings revealed that people who spend time using multiple devices, for example texting while watching TV, had less brain density in a part of the cortex which is responsible for cognitive and emotional control. Emotional control is a simple term but some of you may wonder what cognitive control means. It basically means that your brain allows you to make decisions based rather on our goals than habits and reactions. It allows you to be flexible and adapt more easily in different situations.

If you are interested to read more about multitasking I’d recommend this book: The Myth of Multitasking: How “Doing It All” Gets Nothing Done by Dave Crenshaw (available here).

How to reduce stress levels and feel more in control? 

Do you feel you are getting stressed too often? Let’s look at what studies say about dealing with this problem. Being aware that stress can affect our well-being enormously and how to deal with it is certainly crucial for our well-being!

Remember that your emotions are just emotions and they are temporary. Don’t let them dictate how you feel. If something is overwhelming and you feel stressed and you feel that there is no solution, just TAKE A BREAK.

Depending on the situation, different things may help: talk to a trustworthy and supportive friend, watch a movie (preferably a comedy!), unplug and disconnect for a few hours and take a nice hot bath, practice mindfulness or go for a run (take headphones and turn on your favourite music).

When it’s difficult to deal with problems and we feel overwhelmed, it’s best to do some physical activity. Getting more oxygen to your brain, making your muscles tired – this always does the trick and will make you feel better, more confident and calmer!

Diverting your attention to your passion can also be very helpful but it may not always work, for example, if your passion requires quite a lot of attention and focus, because your mind may just not be in the right state, with lots of meandering and not-so-constructive thoughts.

It’s been proven that reading (a minimum of 6 mins) can reduce your stress levels by as much as 70%!

Whatever you decide to do, just don’t withdraw from your life, society, or work. That’s not a solution or a good method to deal with stress. It actually increases anxiety, stress and depression instead of giving you an opportunity to focus and find a solution.

One of the most helpful techniques that you can use on a daily basis to improve your resistance towards stress is to work on your outlook. The way you perceive different situations impacts on how you feel and how your body reacts. Studies found that perceiving difficult tasks more positively, as challenges rather than problems or threats, improves stress levels and makes us feel more in control and calmer. Try to avoid self-pitying, blaming others, and pessimistic and critical thoughts.

And remember. EVERYONE has problems, large and small, now and then. You are not the only one!

Avoid the 3 Biggest Productivity Traps

  1. CATCHING UP

Working more hours often to catch up with the demands at work, or while working on your personal projects, sometimes ends up as a normal working pattern that lasts weeks or months. Working some extra weekends may be a good solution once in a while. It’s really satisfying to feel we are ahead and everything is nicely organised and ready for Monday morning. However, if you do it for a longer period of time, for example a few weeks, your productivity, attention and energy will decrease enormously. According to studies, working approximately 40 hours a week, is ideal in terms of our productivity. Working more than that is a great recipe for burnout, depression and exhaustion! If that’s what you need right now then keep going! … but I’m sure it’s not.

2. EXTRA ACTIVITIES
Many pieces of advice about productivity come down to one thing: try to squeeze in various productive, healthy and personally beneficial activities into your day, whenever you can. I’ve read tonnes of them by now:

  • if you are on a break you can quickly check and reply to your personal emails
  • read and watch news while eating your breakfast
  • listen to audio books while doing gardening/cleaning your house/looking after children
  • write, read and work while you are on a bus or train
  • use an app to learn a foreign language while waiting in a queue

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Some of the advice may be really good and useful for you as long as you don’t try to squeeze in too much. Otherwise you will end up:

– without any breaks and time for recharging your batteries

– with no opportunities to do something without using many of your cognitive skills, such as walking without occupying your mind with work and foreign language courses. Even cleaning house or gardening can be great opportunities to let your brain rest a bit from hundreds of emails, tasks and queries related to your work and projects.

If you forget about your needs to rest and disconnect you will feel tired more often and become a lot less productive.

3. LOW IMPACT VS HIGH IMPACT TASKS.
Every work has some more and less important tasks. You are probably familiar with the 20/80 Pareto principle, which believe me actually works! And it’s pretty straightforward. It says that:

20% of your input on tasks and effort translates into 80% of results.

Make a list of tasks that you need to do on a regular basis – to make it simple choose a maximum of 10 tasks that you tend to do most often. Then think which 2 tasks from this list give you actually the most meaningful and biggest results.

We often tend to spend a lot of time on things like answering emails and making phone calls – and although these things are important, we usually do them way too often. For example, on average most of us check emails every 15 minutes while studies show that to be most effective and productive you should do it only 3x a day if you do an office job. If you can check and reply to your emails only 2-3 x a week, then that’s even better. Of course, your personal email can be checked daily but hopefully you don’t use it as well as a work email.

If you are writing a book your high impact task will be writing and then maybe editing or researching your materials. Plan ahead to do your high-impact tasks when you have most energy, for example, 2-3 hours every morning. Try to do everything to avoid interruptions then. Maybe you can get up earlier, switch your mobile to airplane mode and let others know that this is a very important time for you when you need to work and can deal with their questions and requests later? Whatever you do try not to skip the planning stage which is crucial.

What discourages (instead of motivating) us in the field of personal development?

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We know that one of the problems is of course our time usage. I don’t like to use the phrase ‘time management’. Time management used to be SO important for around a decade or so, and yet it’s vital to realise that THIS IS MORE crucial in terms of physical work (especially for example with targets in a factory) but in most jobs, such as admin or management, time isn’t as important as other aspects, such as:

  • being innovative
  • having creative ideas
  • managing stress
  • team building
  • or having great interpersonal/presentation skills

I think the term ‘self-help’ books is quite damaging as well because it seems like there is something wrong with people who read about goal setting, productivity and well-being and they NEED HELP! They need improvements in their life, like everyone does in some areas, but it sounds like they have some diseases, maybe mental health problems, and need help with this. What’s more, it suggests that the problems may be so sensitive and embarrassing that people don’t want to speak to their doctors about it and they prefer to help themselves on their own… SELF- help books… Who created such an unsuitable name tag for these great titles about personal growth, strength and motivation?! I’m glad that this has changed and publishers have started to refer to this section rather as ‘self-development’ now.

Similarly, I believe that we should find a new name for life coaches! What a discouraging wording! I think it suggests they can teach you… how to live your own life properly! So they basically seem to know everything about “how to live a happy life” and can teach everyone the same or similar techniques no matter where they come from, what situation they are in, or what they problems are. It’s like measuring everyone with the same scale.

Many people have started to make big money out of this business and unfortunately there are some so-called ‘gurus’ out there who learn all the secrets of a fulfilling, healthy and happy life on a short online course and then they are certified and ready to tell you how you should work, bring up your children, achieve your goals and build your relationships.

I was really put off by the term life coach for a long time. It sounded like people trying to get rich at the expense of whoever would be willing to pay to get advice from such modern fortune-tellers. “The concept of ‘life coaching’ barely existed 30 years ago. But by 2012, it was a $707 million business in the U.S., according to the most recent figures from the International Coach Federation (ICF).” (read more here).

It sounded like a scam and deceiving people. However, if I’m against something I like to know what it really is. How can I be against life coaches if I haven’t watched a few videos and read some books about them and written by them? I thought they were people who pretend to be psychologists. While getting familiar with the topic I’ve realised that some so-called life coaches are actually great and charismatic people who make some thought-provoking and interesting speeches. I have a few favourite ones now. I don’t treat them as my ‘gurus’ and specialists about everything but it’s motivational to listen to some of their speeches or read some books.

So, yes, it looks like the name is quite unfortunate and may put many people off rather than encourage them to learn something from, for instance, good and experienced productivity and time-management experts.

I’d recommend we dig deeper to see whether we like someone and their opinions rather than focusing on the name that may not always be chosen accurately and wisely…

Science & happiness: Does having children make us happy?

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Do you think that having children can increase our happiness or subjective well-being as scientists like to call it?

According to science having children who are up to 5 years old or teenagers makes us actually LESS HAPPY! However, children can make our life more meaningful and what’s interesting (in spite of all the stress and worries), parents live on average longer!

One of the reasons for the drop in happiness levels is that many people who have children feel less happy because they believe that if they were only more organised or could improve their work-life balance they would be better parents. They feel that this is an individual problem but nowadays it’s a bigger social issue particularly in developed countries where people seem to work longer hours and take work home.

In 2016 The Independent indicated that according to studies in the USA parents report they are 12% unhappier than non-parents. In the UK the number is slightly smaller as of 8% parents feel less happy. For Poland, the result was nearly a 5% drop in happiness level compared to non-parents. There are however a few countries where people feel happier when they have children, for example, in France, Norway, Spain or Portugal.

Researchers looked at differences between the countries to try to find out why in some countries parents are happier than in others and they found that government policies or lack of them, and less support from the government contribute a great deal to the increased cost, stress and anxiety felt, for example, by American or British parents.

It was estimated “that a middle-income American family is likely to spend $234,900 to raise a child to age 17.” If the teenager then decides to go to college, that figure may even double.

What makes parents happier in other countries? For example, in Norway or France there are more supportive family policies. In Spain and Portugal extended family networks seem to be very helpful in taking care of children.

I must say as a person who is about to start maternity leave in the UK, I feel happy but at the same time quite anxious about the lack of sufficient support for parents.

How does it look in the UK then?

  • for most women (depending on if and where they work)– very low maternity leave pay (around £500 a month) that is given only for 9 months (then you can have 3 months of unpaid maternity leave if you like)
  • only 2 weeks of paternal leave (for fathers)
  • unpaid parental leave (4 weeks a year, max. 18 weeks in total)
  • in many companies unpaid sick leave/careers days
  • no support from government in terms of childcare until the child is 2 years old
  • although the country is regarded as a developed one, in some companies taking sick leave by women during pregnancy is perceived negatively by employers because some believe that (although we assume that we all know that every pregnancy is different) “pregnancy is not a disease” and women should “get on with it!”

To compare it with Poland, mothers there receive:

  • 12 months paid maternity leave
  • 500 zlotych per month per child for parents who have more than 1 child (imagine that you live e.g. in the USA and receive $500 for every child except the first one on a monthly basis and this doesn’t depend on your earnings at all)
  • paid sick leave during pregnancy

Are you a parent or planning to become one? Are you satisfied with the support given by your government in your country?